View Full Version : Genes Drive Behaviour, But Culture Can Select Genes: Study

Friday, October 30th, 2009, 04:01 AM
Culture, not just genes, can drive evolutionary outcomes, according to a study released Wednesday that compares individualist and group-oriented societies across the globe.

Bridging a rarely-crossed border between natural and social sciences, the study looks at the interplay across 29 countries of two sets of data, one genetic and the other cultural.

The researchers found that most people in countries widely described as collectivist have a specific mutation within a gene regulating the transport of serotonin, a neurochemical known to profoundly affect mood.

In China and other east Asian nations, for example, up to 80 percent of the population carry this so-called “short” allele, or variant, of a stretch of DNA known as 5-HTTLPR.

Earlier research has shown the S allele to be strongly linked with a range of negative emotions, including anxiety and depression.

Critically, it is also associated with the impulse to stay out of harm’s way.

By contrast, in countries of European origin that prize self-expression and the pursuit of individual over group goals, the long or “L” allele dominates, with only 40 percent of people carrying the “S” variant.

The study, published in Britain’s Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, offers a novel explanation as to how this divergence might have come about.

Setting aside discredited ideas linking genetics and race, the researchers suggest that culture and genes may have interacted over time to shape the process of natural selection, helping individuals—and the societies in which they lived—to survive and thrive.

Ancient cultures in Asia, Africa and Latin America highly exposed to deadly pathogens, they conjecture, may have tended toward collectivist norms in order to better combat disease.

That social transformation, in turn, could have favoured the gradual dominance of the risk-avoidance S allele.

“We demonstrate that evolution is operating at least two levels,” said Joan Chiao, a professor at Northwestern University in Chicago and lead author of the study.

“One is biological, which is well understood. But there is also a level where cultural traits may have been selected for themselves, emerging in congruence with the selection of different types of genes,” she explained by phone.

One well known example of so-called “culture-gene co-evolutionary theory” has to do with drinking cow’s milk, something humans are not intrinsically adapted to do.

Over time, milk consumption led to both the genetic selection of protein genes in cattle, and a gene in humans that encodes lactase, an enzyme that can break down the otherwise indigestible lactose in dairy.

In the case of collective cultures and the S allele, “we don’t make a strong claim on the chicken-or-egg problem” of which came first, said Chiao.

“What we are proposing is that cultural and genetic selection actually operate in tandem, and that you can view human behaviour as a product of culture-gene co-evolution,” she said.

The study also argues that collectivist cultures may help protect against the genetic risk of depression that comes with having the S allele.

“Such support seems to buffer vulnerable individuals from the environmental risks or stressors that serve as triggers to depressive episodes,” said Chiao. The fact that the United States and Europe have higher rates of anxiety and mood disorders despite having the L allele may come from the stress of living in highly individualistic cultures, she suggested.

“People have treated natural selection as a rationale for looking for universal traits, across populations and species.”

“But what really matters is the diversity across populations and species which may help us better understand how natural selection has operated at both individual levels and ecosystem levels,” she said.


Friday, October 30th, 2009, 06:08 PM
Is that all they ever publish is bull crap? I'm a very collectivist minded person yet I'm also very bold and prone to take risks. So that puts their theory that collectivism is linked to risk avoidance in the toilette.

I also don't consider Africa collectivist at all. Most Africans are highly prone to rude behavior, criminal behavior etc. which is not group oriented. They seem more selfish than any group I've known. How can they be considered collectivist? American cultures I'd say they are about similar to Europe. Asians are the only real collectivists and some Europeans. At any rate most Europeans are individualistic because throughout history until recently northern europe didn't support a dense population. The race has always been predominately rural. As has been argued in past threads: perhaps this is why Europeans are poorly adapted for the modern world with its dense populations, transient cultures etc.

Saturday, October 31st, 2009, 05:55 AM
I've read that East Asians are more likely to be born with the ability to perceive perfect pitch. Perfect pitch perception is very uncommon in most people and is something you have to be born with. It's believed that since Far Eastern languages tend to be tonal that genes responsible for this ability have been selected for in that part of the world.
The belief that culture can influence human evolution makes perfect sense. We humans need our cultures to survive, so we need to adapt to them.

Saturday, October 31st, 2009, 06:48 AM
The belief that culture can influence human evolution makes perfect sense. We humans need our cultures to survive, so we need to adapt to them.

The article, which I have posted a section of below has many valid points, relating to the preservation of culture. I had only posted sections, which I believe are relevant to this thread. Some of points in the article, however, which I did not post, appeared to be liberally and racially biased. If you would like to read the complete article, follow the link:http://www.mc.maricopa.edu/~bdille/un/hs/culture.pdf

Excerpts From Cultural Preservation and Protection
By Elizabeth A. Thomas-Hoffman


Protecting and preserving culture includes aspects of human rights, tolerance, development and protecting cultural sites and artifacts, as well as intellectual property rights for culturally specific language and art. The protection and preservation of the diverse cultures of the world is one of the foundations on which the United Nations was built. The United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is the primary body of the UN to protect and preserve culture. At the core of UNESCO’s work is the acknowledgement of the links between culture and the broader aims of people throughout the world. Respect, tolerance and protection of culture are central to the UNESCO mandate of "advancing, through the educational, scientific and cultural relations of the peoples of the world, the objectives of peace and the common welfare of mankind” (UNESCO Constitution, 1945). The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, adopted by the General Assembly on 16 December 1966 and entered into force 3 January 1976, outlines the rights of self-determination of all peoples to freely pursue their cultural development (GA, 1976). The 1966 Declaration of the Principles of International Cultural Co-operation states that "each culture has a dignity and value which must be respected and preserved" and that "every people has the right and duty to develop its culture" (UNESCO, 1966, Article 1). The United Nations proclaimed 1995 the International Year for Tolerance, stating the UN is “Convinced that tolerance – the recognition and appreciation of others, the ability to live together with and
to listen to others – is the sound foundation of any civil society and of peace” (GA, 1993). Numerous other resolutions and declarations of the United Nations promote the protection and preservation of cultural rights, including the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance Based on Religion or Belief (GA, 1981), the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (GA, 1992), the UNESCO Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice (UNESCO, 1978) and the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (UNESCO, 1972).

Defining Culture

Often, people define culture only as it relates to the art and heritage of Native or Indigenous People. However, culture has greater meaning and should be applied to both dominant and minority populations in both developed and developing countries. At the World Conference on Cultural Policies in Mexico City (1982), participants defined culture as “the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs." (UNESCO, 1982) This broad definition of culture extends beyond art and heritage, and recognizes the intricate tapestry of culture that defines societies.

Culture and Human Rights

Most of the international community recognized that there are universal human rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (GA, 1948). However,
the international community is increasingly sensitive to cultural relativism, the notion that human values vary with different cultural perspectives (Ayton-Shenker, 1995, 1). While it is generally recognized that the international community must continually work towards the establishment and protection of universal human rights, the need to incorporate the myriad cultural values into the human rights structure is still in its infancy. Regardless of the work yet to be accomplished, the respect for cultural diversity that leads to cultural preservation and protection has long been a central tenet of the work of the United Nations, grounded in the principles set forth in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GA, 1966), and perpetuated through succeeding covenants, declarations and resolutions of the United Nations.
The task of incorporating cultural relativism into human rights is difficult and demanding, and the road to cultural human rights is threatened by abuse of the principles of respect for diverse cultures. Cultural relativism should not justify denial or abuse of human rights through veiled discriminatory practices, such as labeling certain groups of people as a culture different from a dominant culture, thus isolating them from the benefits of the economic and social advantages of their community and country. Real solutions to the address cultural sensitivity often are most effective when developed on a local level, with the direct participation of the cultural groups involved and considering the specific challenges of each situation. The task of incorporating cultural relativism, therefore, cannot be mandated. Rather, education and awareness, as well as cooperation between cultures, with emphasis on the differing needs of diverse cultures, are necessary for the promotion of human rights within the framework of cultural relativism.

The Rights of Women and Children

In Article 3 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976), member states of the United Nations agreed to “ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights” of the Covenant (GA, 1966). The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) recognized that culture plays a defining role in women’s full enjoyment of their fundamental rights and that “a change in the traditional role of men as well as the role of women in society and in the family is needed to achieve full equality of men and women” (GA, 1979). States party to the Convention are required to modify cultural patterns of social and economic equality in their efforts to ensure equal rights of women. However, the balance between the respect for culture and the empowerment of women is uneasy in many parts of the world. While women sometimes enjoy the benefits of their cultural status, culture can also be used to discriminate against women. While the international community generally seeks to promote the equal rights and participation of women in governance, economic activity and social interactions, the cultural practices with regard to women is often a contentious area of debate.

Indigenous People

Protecting and promoting the rights of indigenous peoples is a central part of ensuring cultural protection and preservation. The UN Commission on Human Rights, through the Economic and Social Council, established the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in April 2000 during the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (ECOSOC, 2000). The Permanent Forum acts as an advisory body to
the Economic and Social Council regarding issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. The Permanent Forum prepared a draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples that is currently under review and discussion by the Commission on Human Rights. The draft declaration would unequivocally give indigenous peoples the right of self determination to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development and calls for both prevention of and redress for “any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities” (CHR, 1994). If adopted, the draft declaration would provide the essential foundation for promoting and protecting the cultural rights of not only indigenous peoples, but also of all distinct cultural groups in the various regions of the world.

Full Article:http://www.mc.maricopa.edu/~bdille/un/hs/culture.pdf